Stop Aggressive Dog Behavior–Step II

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Back in the early nineties I was a Humane Officer. My job at Humane Society was to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect all over the county. More often than I would like to recount, I came across dogs of every age, breed and mix in terrible circumstances. One that sticks in my mind in particular involved two young Pit Bull mixes, about 8-10 months each. They were padlocked to either end of a short tow chain, which was wrapped around a pole in the back yard of a local home. This is a form of conditioning dogs that will later be trained to fight. They are chained pretty much face to face with little room to even look away from each other. They are fed sparingly and the only human contact is smacking and pushing them together. Although I successfully rescued them both, the younger pup was unable to acclimate. Through all the tests, reconditioning techniques used by the Humane Society back then, and positive human contact, she was untouchable by almost everyone in the kennel. Though I believed she just needed more time, the director determined that she be put down. It takes time to stop aggressive dog behavior. Time they were not willing to spend.

Time, It All Takes Time…

One thing we seem to have lost in our ever-evolving society is the fact that worthwhile things take time. Time. That precious commodity that everyone wants, yet so few desire to give. Nowadays everyone presses a button for instant gratification. Even when it comes to training dogs there are push-button alternatives. Bark collars, electric “training” collars–or “ecollars” as they are fondly known–and electronic fences. Turn a switch, press a button and “poof”. You have what you want from your pooch. There is no relationship in that. I cannot help but wonder, why get a real dog at all? Why not just find a robotic pup?

If you followed the points in Stop Aggressive Dog Behavior–Step I, hopefully you still keep the collar (or dominant dog collar) and drag leash on her when she is out. Hopefully, you keep her separate from the other dog(s) in your home unless you are right there to monitor and intervene. Hopefully you are having fun together! Hopefully you have seen at least a bit of change in her behavior–with you and the other dog(s). Keep up this arrangement and ease in, bit by bit, into other areas, such as play time with the others in your pack. Take your time.

Another thing as a Humane Officer that, though it was not necessarily my job, I found myself doing regularly was giving time to the tougher cases. One big guy I will never forget was a site to behold. He was around seven years old and was so terribly scarred from all the fights he “won”, it was tough to tell if the gray in his brown was from age or scars. I called him Brutus because the look on his face just fit the name. Since he was a well-trained fighter he was kept in one of the isolation stalls in the barn, separate from the kennel. Because he was isolated, though, the director seemed to have forgotten he was there for a spell. That was fabulous for me! My nerdy days as a kid paid off! I finally had a real-life test subject to work out my childhood theories. When the vet caught me working with him, she put in the paperwork for him to skip death row…at least for a few months.

That meant Brutus and I had some time we could work together, and work we did…for almost year.

Isolation, Not Always Bad

We humans seem to not realize that everything–EVERY THING–is a stimulant to a dog. Some stimuli they become accustomed to and do not react after a while. Some, they may only react occasionally. Still, other stimuli may cause them to react repeatedly, no matter how often or over what length of time. For example, when I return home neither of my dogs bark at the noise of opening the garage door or coming up the stairs. Occasionally, they still bark when my husband returns home. And every stinkin time my son comes home, it sounds like a dog party in here! One of the primary ways dogs are trained is through various means of stimulation–food, toys, praise, etc. There are times that they need an environment where there is little to no stimuli.

Brutus needed a monastery. scarred pit

There are aggressive dogs that pace, pant and ready to jump at anything that moves. Then there are dogs that I call the “silent but deadly.” Those that are more difficult to read because they just quietly, calmly sit, staring at you. This was Brutus. He was slow, easy and calculated. The first few days I knew him, I just talked to him through the gate and would toss him treats if he looked at me. Those first few days he did not so much as sniff at the treats. In fact, he rarely perked his triangular short cut ears.

During this first week I walked another dog down the shed row, just outside Brutus’ door. He did not even look up. So I played with the dog right beside his stall. Still, no response until he heard me tell this dog, “Good! Good boy!” At that, Brutus charged the stall door, in a deep growl. I found his trigger. For the next few days, without the other dog, I would just repeat those words. Each time Brutus heard “Good boy!” he charged the stall wall or door, and if a bowl or toy got in his way he attacked it. And I would just tell him “Stop”, calmly. We did this for a few weeks. One day he did stop when I said that word (which I think was mere coincidence) and I immediately tossed a treat inside. For the first time, he grabbed the treat and ate it. Over time he began to connect his action with the word “Stop” and the treat. Once I even got a tail wag when I tossed in the treat!

During these weeks I also introduced various other stimuli. Bags rattling, pans clanging, whistles, laughter, car horn, yelling… Nothing garnered a reaction from this ole boy, other than “Good boy!” and, after time, “Stop.” It was as if he only had an ON button, until I was able to wire in an OFF button. Prior to that, he would keep attacking whatever he could find–even just the wall–until he literally dropped from exhaustion. Prior to all this, the only thing he had to count on was eating, fighting and breeding. Now he had something new. I popped in to pester him at the same time every day! Seriously, along with the isolation, keeping the habit of talking with Brutus each day helped him begin to learn new things–good things. Things that, I hoped, would eventually save his life.

Isolating an aggressive dog in your home helps them to reboot and gives them a break from the constant stimulation of being near other dogs. Yes, dogs are pack animals. No, they are not wild pack animals. Thus, dogs in a home environment need time to reboot away from the pack when their behavior is not conducive to the pack. Let us not forget that, as pack animals, they will almost constantly compete for rank. All the playing they do is not merely for fun. It determines who is queen (or king) bee–under you, as pack leader, of course. Even things like nosing for affection (a dog pushing your hand, leg, or another dog, as a demand to be petted) is considered a dominating gesture. When they are only allowed limited, supervised time they can begin to learn acceptable behaviors in small doses–where there is no competition–while given the time to reboot regularly.

Isolation also plays a key role in that your dog spends one on one time with you. In that, you can build a relationship with him without distractions of the other dog(s). When there is no one else to compete with for rank or your attention, you have more opportunity to build a healthy dog that knows his place.

Did I Mention this Takes Time?

Certainly, most will get to the point where you can all pass out watching movies together on the living room floor or couch compatibly. But again, it takes time. That is, if you want your pups to grow together without one dominating the other(s) while you’re not looking. Granted, none of you (I hope) have a Brutus to deal with. I used his example to make the point that great things are not only possible, but probable with time.

This is a double-sided coin, time. On one side, it takes time to mold and direct the natural instincts and behaviors of a dog to be conducive to your pack environment–a positive addition to your family. On the flip-side, it takes time to grow and reinforce those natural, brute instincts and behaviors–which makes for a dangerous animal. A dog need not be intentionally conditioned for fighting to make him a danger. Merely ignoring–or being ignorant of–certain behaviors can build gusto in a vibrant pup that can turn her into a terror. Many of these behaviors are so subtle, maybe even “cute”, that you will miss the early signs of an aggressive dog if you do not pay close attention.

Isolating, spending quality one on one time with the dog, and keeping that collar (or dominant dog collar) with the drag leash on him are keys to a great start in helping him control that behavior. This process provides ample opportunity to watch for and deal with the early signs–which we will cover in the next chapter.

Key Tips

Key #1: Take your time. Be consistent. Watch closely.

Key #2: Isolation is a good tool, and good for your dogs–especially an aggressor.

Key #3: Dogs do not “suddenly snap.” Aggressive behavior grows over time and may start subtly, even “cute”.

Key #4: Have fun and spend quality time with each of your dogs, individually and together.

Key #5: Keep that collar (or dominant dog collar) and drag leash on whenever he is out.

Key #6: Remember, it takes time!


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